A Guide to Bike Path Etiquette and Safety

I would like to preface this post by stating that I am by no means an expert on either bike path etiquette or cycling safety–I am in fact, only a very few steps up from a noob.  The following post is merely a collection of observations and pet peeves I have developed on my daily bicycle commute.  If you have anything to add, or refute, by all means, chime in!

I am very lucky that the city of Burlington has such a lovely and well-maintained bike path.  It stretches several miles along the Lake Champlain waterfront, from the south end of Burlington all the way up to Colchester.  This bike path is used by an enormous cross-section of locals–from walkers, runners, and cyclists, to moms with strollers and folks walking their dogs.  I think it’s fantastic that people are getting outside and getting exercise.  It’s a beautiful spot, and a great way to get around.  Unfortunately, however, I’ve noticed that even though the rules are clearly posted in several areas (and sometimes even spray painted on the path itself), there’s a startling lack of rule-following, or even common sense by many bike path users.

In order to address my own pet peeves educate the public, I have put together a list of some of the most basic courtesy and safety rules that should be followed when using a bike path (specifically, the Burlington Bikeway).

  • Keep right.  This is a simple one, and yet I see people running/biking/whatever in the middle or even on the left hand side of the path EVERY DAMN DAY.  You should always keep right so that traffic coming toward you has room to get by, and so that a fellow cyclist or  runner going at a faster pace has room to pass you.
Not my bike path, but the same printing appears on mine in many spots

Not my bike path, but the same printing appears on mine in many spots

  • Pass on the left.  Just like when driving a car, you should really only pass on the left.  Unless the person is totally breaking rule number 1 above and is running/walking/biking on the left side of the path. Then you just do what you’ve gotta do.
  • When passing, call out, or ring your bell.  It’s just common courtesy to call out “On your left (or right)” when passing, so that you a) give the person a chance to move over and give you more room, and b) don’t scare the bajeezus out of them.  I’ve had bikers go whizzing past without warning while I was running, and it’s fricken scary!

Bell

  • Don’t pass on a curve or hill.  I witnessed a really scary almost-accident last week.  I was plugging along on my bike ride home, approaching a big blind curve.  I could hear someone coming up fast behind me, so I pulled even further right to allow room for him to pass.  As I came up to the curve, I saw two ladies riding side by side approaching from the opposite direction.  Before I had time to call out a warning, the person behind me pulled out to pass and almost had a head on collision with the oncoming bikes!  One of the ladies screamed and they both slammed on the brakes, then the guy managed to zip around and just kept going, no apology, no acknowledgement, no nothing.  So, moral of the story, if you can’t see what’s coming, don’t pass!  And be nice, for crying out loud!
  • Don’t ride/walk/run more than 2 abreast.  The bike path is only about 10 feet across at its widest, and is usually more like 6 or 8.  If you make a huge line across the path, it’s really difficult for others to get by, or for your group to acknowledge that call of “On your left!” and move over fast enough.
  • Keep your dogs and your kids close.  Don’t let your leash’s flexi-lead out 20 feet, and don’t let your child wander far away from you on the wrong side of the path.  I’ve had a couple of close calls where I had to come to a complete stop on the bike path, even after calling out that I needed to get by.  Keep your kids and pets close enough that when another biker/runner/walker wants to pass, you can keep control of them so they don’t get run over.
  • Make sure your music is turned down enough that you can hear someone call out or ring their bell.  I get it, music is awesome.  It can make a tough workout better, and make your long run more bearable.  But if you’re rocking out so hard that when I call out “On your left” you don’t hear me and move, it’s totally not my fault if I run you over.
  • Don’t stop in the middle of the bike path.  If you need to stop, move over to the right as far as you can.  I know that in some areas, there’s not really anywhere to go, but if you can, get off the bike path.  Yes, sometimes shoes come untied.  Yes, the views are pretty and it’s nice to take pictures or regroup with your friends, but if you come to a dead stop in the middle of the path and I can’t get around you, it’s not going to end well.

All snarkiness aside, I really do love riding my bike to work.  It’s only sometimes that I want to punch people.  And to be fair, the rules should be posted in more places along the bike path–are you listening, City of Burlington?

Do you ever commute on your bike?

Do you have any suggestions for bike path etiquette/safety?

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24 thoughts on “A Guide to Bike Path Etiquette and Safety

  1. dgobs says:

    YES TO ALL OF THIS. I’m not a cyclist, but I strongly agree to all these things as a pedestrian who occasionally walks along similar paths. I also want all of these to be implemented on regular sidewalks, as well as hallways. You know, I just want everyone to be more aware of their surroundings and courteous to others. That would solve so many problems and prevent my pet peeves from turning into mini-rages!

  2. SuzLyfe says:

    I wish other cyclists had as much sense as you. Oh and while we were in Madison, I literally almost got clipped by a cyclist ON THE SIDEWALK. EXCUSE ME? If you are on the sidewalk, you are in pedestrian land. If you are on the road, you are in car land, but they should give you a wide berth. You always get out of the way if you are the dominant one, because you often have more control. UGH

    • DarlinRae says:

      Yeah, cyclists on sidewalks is also a big nono. I’m occasionally guilty because some streets are busy and scary, but I ALWAYS give the right of way to pedestrians. I actually had a bike come up behind me on the sidewalk this week–she called out “on your left” so I moved to the right, and then she passed me on the right. Ummm, you’re doing it wrong.

    • Healthy Simple Smart says:

      I have no shame in shouting out to bicyclists to get off the sidewalk if they’re there and not giving the right of way to pedestrians/ generally actin’ a fool. I also have no shame in shouting out to cars or scooters that are parked or using the bike lane to get out of the bike lane…I sometimes like shouting at people 🙂

  3. veryrach says:

    Right on!! I feel like printing this out and hanging it up at the start of my one route! I’ve been walking in this park on my lunch break, and on the first day I was almost run over 3 times! The worst part & reason for it is that the signs on this particular path tell you to do the OPPOSITE of normal “stick to the right” rules! They want bikes to PASS on the right and walkers to stay to the left – even though there are bikers and walkers going both ways. So technically bikers should stay to the sides and walkers are in the middle of the path? This frustrates me very much, and it confuses a lot of people. It makes for some awkward situations lol I LOVE your set of rules though! I wish more people followed them.

  4. txa1265 says:

    Great post! I agree with Helly – this is great advice for everyone! With all too many people getting hurt out there, we need to be aware of our surroundings and follow the basic rules!

    • DarlinRae says:

      I am a huge proponent of being aware of your surroundings–so many people just AREN’T. Ben and I often joke about instituting a life “boot camp” to teach people all of these little common sense things that don’t seem to be common sense anymore.

  5. Kimberley@Black Dog Runs Disney says:

    Oh those lovely flexi-leads, the bane of my existence. I know so many dog owners who think they are greatest think ever invented. Find me just one dog trainer worth their fee who thinks they’re a good idea. The whole point of a leash is to have CONTROL of your dog. How a leash that extends to 10, 20, 30 feet long helps an owner have control over their furbuddy is completely beyond me. Hello just one more obstacle to safe running and biking….as if we don’t already have enough crazy people to deal with.

    • DarlinRae says:

      I couldn’t agree more–I have long been a proponent of a plain old fixed-length, nice and sturdy leash. I’ve gotten way too many rope burns from flexi-leads. Boo, I say!

  6. runsaltrun says:

    Agree with all of this and was actually thinking about it earlier while out on the trail for my run. Rules of the trail are the same and there are LOTS of people out there who don’t abide by them!

  7. piratebobcat says:

    OMGOMGOMG! Everyone here is pretty cool…….until you go to one of the paved hike and bike trails. There the bikers are so abrasive! No joke – they will yell at people, elbow them, etc. It’s pretty bad. I don’t get it. Last week I saw a biker verbally abuse a family who was checking on their kid in the stroller, “Get off the effing trail” he yelled. Even though he had PLENTY of room to past. I can’t tell you how many times they’ve yelled at me. Crikey, I’m just minding my own business trying to run here. Sorry, you got me all worked up.

    • DarlinRae says:

      I definitely don’t yell at people, an as long as there’s room to pass I’m not cranky. I just wish there was a common code of conduct that everyone abided by to keep everyone safe and have us all have a good time.

  8. Falyn @ Slacker Runner says:

    While I don’t turn into many bikers around here (they’re all on the highway) so many people run and walk all over the place. There’s a woman I see on the river path with a dog at the max end of the leash. She’s always on the wrong side and when I try to pass her, she cuts me off. I’ve never said anything because she always carries a big stick. People need to realize that there are not the only people out there.

  9. kebe51 says:

    Do you think we could explain some of these common sense etiquette rules to the pedestrians (I’m talking to you tourists! …and some NYers) too? Because I will end up punching one of them in the face! Sorry, clearly, I have a lot of anger when dealing with my pet peeves.

    • DarlinRae says:

      Tourists are the WORST! “Oh, let me just stop dead in the middle of this sidewalk so I can take a picture, and then get frustrated when commuters keep walking through my shot.”

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